Supporters of foreign workers in Japan on Wednesday called for the need to create a permanent resident visa for such people and ensure them the same payment as Japanese workers as the country aims to open up to blue-collar laborers.
In a statement released at a gathering held at the Diet building in Tokyo, the participants also called for scrapping the existing government-sponsored job training program, under which many foreign interns are believed to have been exploited.
The event was organized by the nonprofit organization Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan in Tokyo at a time when the government and ruling parties are pushing ahead to pass a bill that would largely expand the number of foreign workers in Japan.
The deliberation of the bill started at the Judicial Committee of the House of Representatives on Wednesday despite resistance from opposition parties, with the government hoping to see its passage during the ongoing Diet session through Dec 10.
The government had already been under fire for being late providing detailed data on the estimated number of foreign workers expected to enter Japan under the new scheme.
And it further angered opposition parties after the Justice Ministry was found to have released faulty survey results on foreign trainees who quit their jobs, wrongfully stating that 87 percent of them left "in pursuit of better payment" when in fact, 67 percent of the respondents replied they left due to "low wages."
The nonprofit organization's Chairman Ippei Torii called for the government to engage in parliamentary debate based on the "facts."
Lawyer Shoichi Ibusuki, representing a group of lawyers helping foreign workers, said the envisioned new immigration system includes a new visa status that does not allow foreign workers to bring their families with them and fails to provide sufficient everyday support for them.
"They are real people, not just a workforce. The bill carries problems in various aspects," Ibusuki said before some 200 people at the gathering.
A 38-year-old Chinese man also shared his experience of working as a technical intern trainee at a farm in Tochigi Prefecture.
"I did 150 hours of overwork a month, and it was equivalent to an unpaid work. I doubt newcomers to Japan would really be protected," he said.
Japan introduced the training program for foreigners in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills to developing countries. But the scheme has faced criticism at home and abroad as a cover for importing cheap labor.
Japan has in principle only accepted highly-skilled professionals in such fields as medicine and law, but, in reality, foreign trainees and students have also been taken on. The country is now in need of more foreign laborers due to the rapidly aging population and low birthrate.